March 03, 2013

"Shoe Obsession" @ FIT

In the wonderful world of women's fashion there is no component as elemental as the shoe.  Women love shoes.  Some women are obsessed with shoes.  In 2013, shoes have become the main fashion story replacing the "it bag" as the most desirable accessory and surpassing clothing in fashion importance.  Today's average American woman owns twenty pairs of shoes, double what she owned in the 1990s and the impetus for the retail explosion of designer shoe departments and boutiques worldwide.

Roger Vivier's "Eyelash Heel", 2012

In recognition of this sartorial phenomenon, The Museum at FIT, New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, is presenting "Shoe Obsession" a celebration of 21st century footwear that ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.  150 single shoes, no pairs, are displayed in 21 glass vitrines shaped like telephone booths and grouped according to maker, style, collection or design feature.  The visual impact is like a candy store, or jewel box, of fabulous, fantastical, fetishist objects of desire and seduction.  These shoes run the gamut from Cinderella slippers, literally a glass pump by Maison Martin Margiela, to elegant confections of peau de soie and sparkles by Manolo Blahnick, to S & M studded stilettos that are painful just to look at like Iris Van Herpen's "bondage booties" or Christian Louboutin's "Fetish Ballerine" (see left).

High heeled shoes are inherently sexy and have historically been associated with femininity, power, and sexuality.  No matter how uncomfortable or impractical, women continue to seek the perfect high heel to express social status, playfulness, elegance, eroticism, domination and individuality.

Every shoe on display featured a heel of at least five inches and up to twelve (see Lady Gaga's ballerina heels by Noritaka Tatehana, right).  What was most fascinating to me was the variety of materials used in the construction and decoration of this footwear.  Fine leather and fabric was just the beginning - the embellishments included feathers, mirrors, plastic eyes, fur, antlers, crystals, studs and anything else you can possibly imagine.  Then came the heels themselves.  From Rupert Sanderson's Roman sandal with crouching men underfoot (created for a 2010 production of "Aida") to butterflies, from lipsticks, guns, ceramic flowers, pedestals to an homage to the late Keith Haring by Nicholas Kirkwood (see below), these heels took creativity to new heights!
I have visited the Museum at FIT many times over the years - their shows are fun, informative and free - and I have never seen such a crowd in attendance.  Men and women, young and old, were entranced, amused, horrified and slightly longing for these extraordinary shoes.  Congratulations to FIT director Dr. Valerie Steele on a superb exhibition.

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